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Tony Rose

Tony was not a man given to sentimental or mawkish mood and I’ve tried to avoid that. Throughout I refer to him by his first name. This is due to a curiosity of my childhood in that I referred to both my parents by name, “Dad” was therefore “Tony” or more usually “Tone”. Ironically now he is gone I refer to him as “my Dad” with as much pride as a son can.
Unsentimentally then, something of the background to the man that was Tony Rose:

Born in Exeter in 1941, Tony arrived at traditional song via the tried and tested voyage of discovery through skiffle, Lonnie Donegan and the American “folk” scene arriving finally at the English Tradition. His interest developed at Oxford University where Tony divided his time between the Heritage Society and singing counter-tenor in the Queen’s College Choir. But it was at home in Exeter where the singer we came to know and love was forged in the hot bed of folk singing that was the “Jolly Porter” folk club, of which Tony was a founder member.

Many of Tony’s fans recall the “JP” and remember his performances there but the true inspiration lay with two giants of the 60’s folk scene, Cyril Tawney and Louis Killen. Of these two Tony once said:-

“Cyril was the person who was around when I was starting. He was running a successful club in Plymouth at the time, and he also had a hand in the start of most of the clubs in the South West. From him I had a great deal of practical help, a lot of songs, and it was he who introduced me to the songs of the South West in the shape of the great collections by Baring-Gould, Cecil Sharp, and the Hammond brothers and George Gardiner. These have always been my sources since!
Louis was important to me for specifically musical reasons. I liked the way he sang, and indeed, tried to copy him in the early days and it was he who introduced me to the English concertina”

Tony turned professional in 1969 and released his first album “Young Hunting” on Bill Leader’s “Trailer” label at the end of 1970 and a year or so later the very successful “Under the Greenwood Tree”. This latter album was devoted to songs of the West Country and began to define Tony as a champion of the region. Talking about his West Country connections Tony once said….

“I don’t consciously limit myself to songs of this area, nor do I aim to promote a particular image but I was born and brought up in the West Country, I enjoy a familiarity with the area, and when you live in a place which you know has yielded so much, the songs become focal points for a wider involvement with a particular way of life which you feel part of.”

…..Something he later installed in both his children though neither of us realised it until a bit later on!
In 1971 Tony married Meg, my mother, and at the time was living in London.

Tony joined forces with Jon Raven and Nic Jones to make “Songs of a Changing World” and in 1977 produced his third solo album “On Banks of Green Willow”. This album was described by the Guardian at the time as: ” …a quiet classic, a finely judged collection of songs which vary in mood, style and intensity…….”

In 1977 -78 an interesting experiment took place when Tony joined forces with Nic Jones and Pete and Chris Coe to form “Bandoggs”. A brief but brilliant musical legacy was left by this collaboration and many anecdotes are still remembered by the surviving members. 1978 was also significant for it was the year of my birth!

By now Tony and Meg (and I) were living in Odcombe in Somerset. Close to the heart of the territory explored by those early folk song collectors. In 1981 Tony’s fourth album “Poor Fellows” was released.

The 1980’s saw a general decline in interest in traditional music and eventually Tony “gave up” singing and returned to his first profession, teaching. His own interest in the music did not wane and Tony regularly performed as well as running folk clubs in nearby Yeovil and eventually becoming Artistic Director of the South Petherton Folk Festival. He also became the “Folk/Roots” columnist for the “Guardian”, a role that kept him at the cutting edge of developments in the folk scene and developing an interest in “world” music generally. It was as a result of this role that Tony conceded to purchasing a cd player!

Everything changes and by the mid 80’s Tony and I were still in Odcombe and now living with Helen. In 1988, Tony’s second child, first daughter, my sister and instigator of this whole project, Laura, was born.

Recovering his enthusiasm and retiring from teaching, Tony made a bid for something of a comeback in 1999 with “Bare Bones” a self produced studio recording of his favourite songs over the years. This sensitive retrospective of is repertoire affected us all and reminded us of Tony’s great voice and carefully considered accompaniments. His last studio recording was a rendition of “Sweet Jenny of the Moor” for the first of martyn Windham-Reed’s “Songlinks” projects, the track being so strong it was used as the opener for the album.

Its hard to know how growing up surrounded by this appreciation of tradition affects you until look back. Certainly I was glad of Tony’s influence when my own career path diverted me in to the bowls of traditional sailing ships and I was able to satisfy the cries of “give us a shanty!” with snippets of things learned from the cradle

Added by: Diggory Rose on 28 April 2008.

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